Cartagena, located on the Caribbean coast, should definitely not be missed when planning a visit to Colombia.
Cartagena is a place where the ancient world blends harmoniously with modern times. It is a city brimming with architectural splendour, with colourful colonial buildings, enchanting squares and narrow cobbled streets. As you wander through the city, you will soon notice that every corner and alley tells a new story.
Best things to visit in Cartagena.
Walk through the historical center of Cartagena.
Let's start with a walk through the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you will find the famous "Centro Histórico", a maze of narrow streets filled with lively squares, pretty churches and beautiful colonial houses with colourful facades and balconies full of flowers. The locals here are also extremely friendly and hospitable, making you feel right at home.
During the day it can get very hot in the city centre, so it is better to go out later in the afternoon or early in the morning, when the streets are still empty.
Admire the beautiful streetart and artshops in Getsemaní.
This neighbourhood in Cartagena is just a few minutes' walk from the old city centre. The atmosphere there is very vibrant. You can have a nice stroll in the narrow streets while enjoying the beautiful street art you can find everywhere here. It used to be one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods of Cartagena but that has changed completely and nowadays it is one of the nicest areas of the city.
Enjoy the street musicians on Plaza de la Trinidad.
At night, Cartagena really comes alive. The city buzzes with energy with lively music, dancing and colourful parties. Head to Plaza de la Trinidad in the lively Getsemaní district, where you can enjoy live music and dance to the rhythms of salsa, cumbia and reggaeton. This is the perfect opportunity to throw your hips loose and party like a local.
Visit the old city walls around sunset.
A walk along the thick old city walls surrounding the city is lovely around sunset. On the north side, you have a nice view of the sea and Cartagena's skyline. Visiting the city walls is free. If you arrive well in time, you can settle on the terrace of Café del Mar, the place to be for a drink while enjoying the sunset. There can be quite a traffic jam to visit this café and terrace, so pay extra attention to your belongings.
Go shopping in the cozy streets of Cartagena and take a piece of Colombia home with you.
In Cartagena you will find many artistic shops, especially the handmade typical Colombian handbags are very beautiful, you will find them in all kinds of colours. Paintings with nice images of Cartagena are also a nice souvenir to take home.
We also bought handmade serving spoons made from coconut nuts.
Meet the sloths, monkeys and squirrels in Central Park, Cartagena.
Cartagena's Central Park is located between the old town and Getsemaní. The park in itself is not very special but it was a great experience to admire the sloths in the trees there. Many people say they didn't see anything, but you have to get off the footpaths and look under the trees, there you will see numerous monkeys, squirrels but also the sloths, we even saw a whole family with a little one!
The locals in the park will definitely help you spot the sloths .
What to avoid in Cartagena?
A day on the beach in Playa Blanca.
Numerous local tour operators will try to persuade you to take a day trip to Playa Blanca. However, this was extremely disappointing for us. You have to spend an hour on the bus and then walk along a very dusty road with crowds of people to the beach. Even though we chose the quiet beach (playa tranquile) it was really not a fun experience. You sail a motorboat up to this beach and then you still end up on sunbeds all a few centimetres apart. The water along the beach is full of motor boats and jet skis that leave a nasty smell and you have anything but a paradise feeling there. We were really glad to return to Cartagena. A better option are the Rosario Islands, where you can unwind more. However, if you want a truly tropical experience in Colombia, it's best to head to San Andres for a few more days. This tropical Caribbean island is off the coast of Nicaragua, but belongs to Colombia. Best reached by plane.
The mud bath at El Totumo volcano.
Even though the minerals of the mud bath would be good for your skin, you end up in a small mud bath where it is so crowded that you can barely immerse yourself in the mud.
Great restaurants in Cartagena.
Cartagena is also known for the many good restaurants you can find there. Prices are slightly higher but then the food is amazingly delicious. We visited these and would definitely recommend:
Di Silvio Trattoria:
Delicious pizzas and pastas, perhaps the tastiest in Cartagena. Best to book in advance, there is usually a long queue waiting. The interior there is also special.
Buena Vida Marisqueria y rooftop:
This fantastic restaurant in the old town is a must if you like fish and delicious ceviches.
Try to get a seat on the rooftop terrace. You'll not only serve delicious food but also tasty cocktails and great views over the cosy streets. Highly recommended, best to book in advance.
Quebracho Parrillia Argentina:
If you love a good steak, this restaurant is definitely not to be missed. In the centre of Cartagena, not far from the old city walls.
Nice place to have lunch or a delicious cocktail. Right in the middle of Cartagena's old town. An oasis of calm in the city centre, where you can sit on the patio (cosy courtyard)
and enjoy a delicious drink.
Best places to stay in Cartagena.
The nicest neighbourhoods to visit are: the Old Town and Getsemaní. Here you will find plenty of nice boutique hotels where it is great to stay. Most also have a swimming pool given the tropical heat in this city.
Bocagrande is another possibility, this is the modern part of Cartagena where you can stay on the beach and have views over the sea. Here you will find many of the bigger resorts.
If you opt for a hotel in the old town, this is the most luxurious hotel I can recommend:
We chose Getsemaní and stayed at the cute boutique hotel Casa Pizarro Hotel boutique, with a lovely pool in the middle of the patio, breakfast is served on the rooftop terrace. Great location also just a 2-minute walk from Plaza de la Trinidad.
If you prefer to stay in modern Bocagrande, this hotel is definitely recommended: Hilton Cartagena
Here you will find no less than 4 swimming pools and it is located by the sea.
You still have some questions? Ask them in the comments!